Four mothers posing in a corridor of the Hospital in Bili, DRC 2018

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

COVID-19 brought an additional burden to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a country with immense medical needs caused by years of overlapping crises and a weak, underfunded health system.

Despite repeated upsurges in violent conflict and restrictions imposed by the pandemic, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) provided vital humanitarian and medical assistance in 16 of DRC’s 26 provinces. Our services included general and specialist healthcare, nutrition, vaccinations, surgery, paediatric and maternal care, medical and psychological support for victims of sexual violence and vulnerable people, as well as treatment and prevention activities for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (TB), and cholera. In 2020, we also responded to DRC’s largest measles epidemic and two simultaneous outbreaks of Ebola, in addition to COVID-19, which had claimed 591 lives by the end of the year. 

COVID-19

The impact of the pandemic was felt in all of MSF’s 14 projects and 28 emergency interventions in DRC. In the capital, Kinshasa, the city hit hardest by the disease, emergency support, including providing treatment, in Saint-Joseph hospital was offered between April and September. In addition, our teams launched a campaign on Facebook to address the lack of information that had led to mistrust, rejection, and sometimes violent reactions towards medical staff. In the provinces where we run regular projects, facilities were adapted to ensure continuity of care, including for the 2,093 patients at the MSF-supported Kabinda hospital, which is dedicated to the treatment of advanced HIV/AIDS and TB. 

Measles

While much of the world’s attention was focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, DRC was still in the grips of the world’s biggest active outbreak of measles, which started in mid-2018. Although the outbreak was declared over on 25 August, there was a rise in cases after this date in Mongala, Équateur, North Ubangi, and Sankuru provinces, and MSF continued to carry out mass vaccination campaigns and treat patients with complications. According to the Ministry of Health, 70,652 confirmed cases and 1,023 deaths were reported between January and August 2020. 

Measles vaccines being delivered by motorbike from to Boso Manzi, Mongala province. DRC 2020
MSF in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2020

Measles intervention in Boso Manzi

Measles vaccines are being delivered by motorbike to Boso Manzi, Mongala province, a hard-to-reach area of Northern DRC badly hit by the measles epidemic. In February 2020, MSF sent here emergency teams to set up treatment and vaccination activities.

Ebola

In the east, the tenth, and the biggest, Ebola outbreak in the country’s history was declared over on 25 June. By then, it had infected 3,470 people and claimed 2,287 lives. MSF supported the response by providing care in treatment and transit centres, offering non-Ebola care, collaborating in the vaccination programme, and distributing health promotion information. When the eleventh outbreak was declared in Équateur province in June, all responders knew from past experience that a high degree of decentralisation and strong logistical resources would be required, due to the widespread distribution of cases, accessibility, and acceptance issues, and a strong preference for community-based healthcare.

A decentralised model of care was gradually implemented, in which mobile teams were sent to treat patients in difficult-to-reach areas. The joint response effort used the latest medical tools, increased laboratory capacity, and set up temporary isolation units at community level. By the time the outbreak was declared over, on 18 November, there were 118 confirmed cases, and 55 people had died – a 42.3 percent case fatality rate, which was significantly lower than the 66 percent observed during the previous outbreak. In 2020, MSF treated 199 Ebola patients. 

Dr Tathy, an MSF doctor, sees patients considered as non-Ebola suspects in consultation, as part of the mobile intervention clinic and training of local medical staff in the Ebola context, in the village of Bobua.
MSF in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2020

Ebola intervention in Equateur province

Dr. Tathy, an MSF doctor, sees patients considered as non-Ebola suspects in consultation, as part of the mobile intervention clinic and training of local medical staff in the Ebola context, in the village of Bobua. This decentralization-based device aims to detect and isolate, if necessary, any person presenting symptoms close to Ebola

Sexual Violence

The level of sexual violence remains extremely high in DRC, both in provinces affected by active conflict and in those considered more stable. During 2020, MSF provided medical and psychological care to victims of sexual violence in Kasai-Central, Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu, Maniema, and Haut Katanga. Although the number of survivors who seek care in the facilities we support is high, we believe the scale of the problem is significantly under-reported. In 2020, more than half of the people who received medical and psychological care in an MSF-supported facility, or from MSF community outreach teams, had been assaulted by armed aggressors.

In the areas where we work, we observe obstacles that hinder access to care for patients, such as armed conflict, a lack of infrastructure and drugs, stigmatisation, 
shame, and fear of reprisal. During the third quarter of the year, 66 percent of survivors of sexual violence sought care within 72 hours of the assault. This enabled them to have access to post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent HIV; emergency contraception; antibiotics to prevent sexually transmitted infections; and vaccinations for tetanus and hepatitis B. They also received psychological support and treatment for physical injuries.

General and specialist healthcare

In Ituri and Kivu provinces, which have been plagued by conflict for many years, MSF has maintained general and specialist healthcare in long-term projects, ensuring continuity of lifesaving care while responding to epidemics and mass displacement, among other emergencies. However, the escalation of violence in 2020 and its impact on our teams operating in some of the affected areas led to a reduction in our activities and our ability to reach patients. In North Kivu’s Masisi territory, where we have worked for more than a decade, the delivery of healthcare through mobile clinics, community-based outreach, and ambulance services was reduced after an incident that affected patients and health teams.

In South Kivu, MSF teams experienced several incidents in Fizi territory in 2020. These were the latest among many in recent years, and they forced us to make the reluctant decision to reduce our presence in Fizi and hand over all our activities except essential services to the authorities. During 2020, we started to consider how to adapt our way of working so that we can maintain our assistance to people in need, without exposing our patients and staff to the high risks we currently face.

No. staff in 2020: 3,064 (FTE) » Expenditure in 2020: €113.8 million MSF first worked in the country: 1977

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